Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Snow Cake


Portraying the disabled on screen is fraught with peril, in my opinion. Many an actor has made a fool of himself or herself trying to do so. It can be painful to watch. I won’t cite examples. You can probably think of some. Autism is particularly tough to deal with. Recently Claire Danes did a good job in Temple Grandin, at least partly because she had advice from Temple herself. Everyone knows Rain Man, where Dustin Hoffman did a good job as Raymond, an autistic savant. The thing about autism is that they now call the condition an autistic spectrum, which covers a lot of ground. Temple Grandin is some sort of genius, but we know an autistic man who still craps in his drawers. Opposite ends of the spectrum. Here Sigourney Weaver plays a high-functioning autistic woman who has a daughter. (This is highly unusual. One of the things autistics don’t do is intimacy, it just isn’t possible for them. We are left to assume she was raped, but no one knows for sure.) Alan Rickman, who usually plays bad guys but here is just deeply depressed, picks up the daughter and their car is hit by a truck. He is unhurt; the daughter is killed. He goes to meet the mother, who is weird. He learns of her condition, and they eventually form a friendship. And that’s about it. It’s a simple story, well told. Weaver is very good, playing a character who is probably a lot more typical than Raymond. She has her obsessions, but is highly verbal and seems to be enjoying life. I don’t think we’ll ever really understand what life is like for people like her—can you imagine not wanting to be touched? I can’t. But it’s good to see an autistic portrayed in a slightly less weird way than in Rain Man.